$300,000 discrepancy highlights campus programming flaws
Student Union has more leftover money than its members know what to do with.
More than 20 student groups spent at least $1,000 less than they were budgeted for the 2012-13 year, leaving SU with more than $300,000 of carryforward money at the start of this semester—about triple the amount typical in past years.
While SU re-allocated half that amount to different campus offices and its own priorities on Tuesday, executive officers do not know how to prevent the disparity—about 12 percent of SU’s operating budget from last year was never spent—from recurring.
Junior Nick Palermo, vice president of finance for SU, suggested the best option might simply be cutting Student Union’s operating budget. He suggested SU may have reached the point where charging students an activities fee equal to one percent of tuition—$441 this year—is simply too much.
“There are a lot of question marks that exist still in regards to—is this amount of money that we’re collecting acceptable still. Should it be less? If it’s less, what do we have to cut?” Palermo said.
When SU allocates money that isn’t spent, it gets dumped into a carryforward account for a year before getting moved into a long-term savings account. While in carryforward, it sits earning about .15 percent interest until the vice president of finance comes up with a plan to spend it, which then has to be approved by SU Treasury.
Carryforward is generally between $80,000 and $120,000 per year, Palermo said. This year, 21 groups returned more than $1,000 in unused funds—the Sports Club Board returning about $40,000 and the Art School Council returning $5,000, making the total carryforward $309,233.
A representative from the board could not be reached for comment.
“Having this big of a carryforward shocks me because it really shows the power of how a lot of little things can add up,” senior and SU President Matt Re said.
Senior and Treasury representative Paul Blachar said he wished Student Union had taken the initiative to use carryforward to fund more interesting kinds of events.
“I think that we could be much more creative with how we’re spending our money than what’s currently on the sheet. Personally I think that we should be looking bigger and more creative and not just throwing money at little gaps here and there because we have it,” Blachar said.
Palermo expressed similar sentiments but said the initiative would have to come from student group leaders, not from Treasury itself.
“I’m not sure that we want to encourage groups to spend all the money they have just to spend it but to spend it in different ways,” Palermo said. “We’re talking about why are we collecting all this money back—is it that groups have these larger ideas for events that they aren’t able to put on because they don’t have enough money and subsequently don’t end up spending it?”
Instead, SU Treasury approved about $150,000 in carryforward funds to go toward a new SU business coordinator—who will be funded in the general budget in coming years—more campus speakers and discretionary funds to be spent on things like boxed water for W.I.L.D. They also gave $27,500 to the Office for Student Involvement and Leadership and $17,000 to the Community Service Office. In addition, $55,000 had already been used to balance the current fiscal year’s SU budget.
Treasury approved every recommendation made by Palermo and Re, except for a $6,000 sustainability account that could be used to make this year’s W.I.L.D. concerts and Happy Hours landfill-free.
“It just wasn’t a lot of money per event that we had budgeted for. It really wasn’t, as far as waste management goes,” senior Jake Lyonfields, SU’s executive advisor for sustainability, said.
Lyonfields helped run the composting efforts at spring W.I.L.D., efforts he said were a success that pulled interest from people not generally involved in campus sustainability efforts.
“I disagree but I don’t think…they’re so off-base,” Lyonfields said. “There are a lot of competing interests.”
Sophomore and Treasury representative Jordan Finkelstein said he was disappointed the money didn’t go to its intended purposes but was happy with the funding decisions Treasury made Tuesday.
“It’s not being spent being on programming, and that’s why we’re doing this now—to fix it,” Finklestein said. “We’re trying to get the money back to students as soon as possible.”